Country of Contrasts

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Namibia is known for its deserts and ocean – an odd juxtaposition of water and arid landscapes. And while it might not be an African business travel destination that rolls off the tongue when discussing the big players, there remains a steady flow of business buzzing through Namibia’s major cities.

Lying along the South Atlantic Ocean, on the west coast of Africa, Namibia is a young country – it finally gained its independence in 1990. Although leisure tourism is a major source of income with its numerous game lodges and extreme sports offerings, other sectors of business make a significant contribution to GDP.

Business

According to the Namibia Tourism Board’s latest figures, the country welcomed 1,218,234 foreign visitors in 2011 – business travellers made up 12% of this number. The industries contributing most to Namibia’s growth are mining, energy, fishing, tourism, and manufacturing and infrastructure.

Diamond mining is particularly lucrative – it made up 7.5% of the 9.5% mining contribution to the country’s GDP in 2011. In June 2002, Diamond Fields International recovered a gem quality diamond weighing 17.42 carats. The stone is believed to be the largest gem quality diamond ever recovered in the marine concessions off Luderitz. Other minerals mined in Namibia are uranium, copper, lead and zinc.

In 2011, Namibia was ranked as the fourth largest producer of uranium worldwide, behind Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia. In 2012, Namibia produced 7.1% of the world’s total uranium oxide numbers.

Fishing in the South Atlantic Ocean off Namibia’s coast nets large quantities of sardines, anchovy, hake and horse mackerel. Found in smaller numbers are sole, squid, deep-sea crab, rock lobster and crab. Commercial fishing and fish processing are fast-growing sectors of economy.

Namibia’s exports consist mainly of diamonds and other minerals, fish products, beef and meat products, and karakul sheep pelts.

Although only a small percentage of the land is arable, agriculture makes up an ever-growing portion of the country’s GDP. There are about 4,000 farms across Namibia, most of them concerned with raising cattle, sheep and goats. Produce is exported, but the government encourages local sourcing of agriculture products by insisting that retailers of fruit, vegetables and other crop products purchase around 30% of their stock from local farmers.

Tourism

Considering that a large bulk of the 1.2-odd million visitors to Namibia in 2011 were on holiday, it’s safe to say that tourism is a vital component of the country’s economy. While visitors from Africa were mostly visiting friends and family, of North Americans and Europeans entering the county, 76.9% and 75.3% respectively were leisure tourists.

“We are seeing a trend in more leisure travellers exploring Windhoek before heading off to the popular coastal regions,” says John McAree, General Manager at Hilton Windhoek.

Tourism has had a positive impact on resource conservation and rural development. Some 50 communal conservancies have been established across the country, covering 11.8 million hectares of land and resulting in enhanced land management, while providing jobs to thousands of rural Namibians.

Cities

Windhoek isn’t the only city of importance in Namibia.

Walvis Bay is where the fishing industry is situated. It sits slightly north of the midway point of Namibia’s coastline. Its natural deep water harbour is a safe haven for ships, and the abundance of plankton in the chilly Atlantic Ocean waters draws whales relatively close to shore.

Swakopmund is a beach resort about 35 minutes’ drive north of Walvis Bay. Here, you’ll find a booming industry aimed directly at tourists. Hotels, night clubs, coffee shops and bars are sprinkled around town. You can take to the skies in a hot air balloon, or take to the sea for a cruise. There’s quad biking, sky diving and golf at the Rossmund Golf Course – one of only five desert golf courses in the world.

Things to do

The dusty sand dunes of the Namib Desert, the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, and the acres of African bushveld are among the best reasons to spend some leisure time in Namibia.

If you have some time to kill, there are number of activities to choose from. Play a round of golf in Windhoek (Windhoek Country Club, Omeya), Walvis Bay (Walvis Bay Golf Course), or Swakopmund (Rossmund Golf Course). Walk with cheetahs at the Na’ankuse Wildlife Sanctuary. Reconnect with nature on a game drive at Okapuka Lodge or GocheGanas Nature Reserve. Catch a glimpse of the endangered Black Rhino at Etosha National Park. Surf the red dunes of the Namib Desert on a snowboard or drive them in a 4×4. Or simply enjoy the beauty and tranquillity of the country’s beaches.

Getting there

Hosea Kutako International Airport, 48 kilometres east of Windhoek, is the main gateway for regional and international flights. It is the hub for the country’s national airline.

Air Namibia flies from Windhoek to Accra, Luanda, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Gaborone, Maun, Harare, Victoria Falls, Lusaka, Katima Mulilo, Rundu and Frankfurt (Germany). It connects the capital with other Namibian towns – Onmdangwa, Walvis Bay, Luderitz, Oranjemund and Orjiva – with regular flights.

SA Express flies from Johannesburg and Cape Town to both Windhoek and Walvis Bay. Both South African Airways and British Airways offer flights between Johannesburg and Windhoek.

Getting around

The road system in Namibia is fairly well-maintained and self-drive is the recommended mode of transport. With the airport being a distance from the centre of town, hiring a car at the airport is an easy way of getting yourself to your hotel. There are a number of international car hire chains to choose from – Avis, Hertz, Thrifty, Alamo, Europcar, Budget, National, Honk, Dollar and Auto Europe all have facilities at Hosea Kutako.

When deciding on which type of vehicle to hire, consider where you will be driving. Two-wheel drive cars are fine for city roads, but when heading out of town, 4×4 vehicles are better suited for the gravel and dirt roads.

If you’re driving into the country through one of the border posts between Angola, Botswana, South Africa and Zambia, you need to inform your insurance company to ensure your cover doesn’t lapse. You also need to purchase a road-use tax certificate. It costs about $10 and can be obtained at the border.

Where to stay

Leisure tourism might outstrip business tourists by a mile, but the business traveller is recognised as an important link in the chain to the country’s success. His or her needs are being met by international hotel chains – see Hilton – and some of South Africa’s biggest groups.

Sun International’s 4-star Kalahari Sands Hotel and Casino is well placed for business travellers to Windhoek. The hotel underwent a multi-million dollar refurbishment in 2011 and is once again a good choice if you prefer to stay downtown. There’s an upmarket shopping mall next to the hotel, which is close to many amenities, including public transport, and the 173 rooms offer plenty of work space and city views. According to Sun International, Kalahari Sands has had an average occupancy of 53% over the last year.

Also in the city centre is the Hilton Windhoek – the city’s first 5-star hotel and one that was designed to appeal to the needs of both the corporate and leisure traveller. Modern luxury rooms offer all the mod-cons you’d expect from a global hotel chain, but the hotel is especially good when it comes to entertaining clients – there are five separate restaurants on site, including the glamorous rooftop Skybar with its city views. Function and meeting facilities can accommodate up to 250 delegates, and this is where Hilton appears to have scored.

“We have experienced a sustained level of bookings for our meeting facilities, with certain periods being busier than others,” says McAree. “We foresee an increase in demand for conference and meeting facilities as the country continues to develop its industries and advance its technological infrastructure.”

While Hilton and Sun International offer just the one property, Protea Hotels has a big offering, in terms of properties across the country, including the Protea Hotel Walvis Bay, which is probably a safe bet, should you be looking for accommodation in that city.

“Protea Hotels has had a presence in Namibia for many years and business is generally good,” says Danny Bryer, Director of Sales, Marketing and Revenue for the Protea Hospitality Group. “We have several hotels there as we do in other African countries such as Nigeria, because there is demand for accommodation. Windhoek, especially, attracts cross-border business travel, conferencing and international leisure travellers, and with one of the most recognised brands in Africa we are there to service that particular demand.”

It seems that Legacy Hotels and Resorts, who operate the Windhoek Country Club, would agree.

“We have never seen the transient corporate and conference markets so buoyant,” says Brian Davidson, Group Sales and Marketing Director.

McAree believes it may not be specific to Windhoek, but rather a general theme.

“The major shift in the hospitality industry has been the diversification of its corporate travel product offering,” he says. “The hospitality industry is increasingly recognising the importance of Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events (MICE), resulting in steady growth. I do believe there is immense scope for progress within the business travel segment due to investments into the country’s industries and infrastructure development, in terms of roads and proposed extensions to the Port of Walvis Bay.”

Windhoek Country Club has hosted several major international events over the past three months, the latest being the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and hosted 2,000 delegates for 11 days in September. This was a major coup for Namibia, giving the country much-needed global exposure.

WCC is a 152-room resort-style hotel just minutes from downtown Windhoek. On top of the wide range of leisure facilities, corporate travellers will appreciate the complimentary Internet access and same-day dry-cleaning service. Choose this hotel if you’re travelling with family, or extending your mid-week trip into the weekend for some downtime.

If you prefer something a bit more intimate or boutique-like, then the Olive Grove Guesthouse could be for you, as it’s situated close to the Windhoek city centre in a quiet, peaceful area of town. The hotel blends European style with African warmth. There’s a focus on luxury lodgings, with private dining rooms, chic courtyards and a modern dining room. Satellite TV, Wi-Fi Internet access and iPod docking stations come standard.

If you’re doing business in Swakopmund, then the Swakopmund Hotel & Entertainment Centre is probably your best bet. Far and away the best place for corporate travellers to stay in Swakopmund, this large hotel – there are 90 rooms – is a popular option for conferencing in Namibia’s premier holiday town. The Platform One restaurant, set in the old railway
station, is good for client dinners, while everything from swimming pools to cinemas will give you options for any downtime.

Further to that, the hotel is the host venue for the Adventure World Travel Summit in late October, which will involve 700 delegates for a week.

“The impact on Namibia, again, will be incredible, as these are all international tour operators and destinations who cannot fail to be impressed by the country and the people” says Davidson.

Also in Swakopmund are a couple of guesthouses worth considering. Cornerstone Guesthouse is about two minutes’ walk from the town centre and about five minutes’ walk to the beach and seafront. Central Guesthouse is situated in the heart of old Swakopmund within easy walking distance of all amenities, shops, restaurants, museums, craft markets, banks and beaches. The Swakopmund Guesthouse offers four standard and seven luxury rooms, and one family suite a mere five-minute walk from the beach.

Visas

While the majority of passport holders need to organise a visa before entering Namibia, citizens of these African countries do not: Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

So there you go. Namibia in a nutshell, with just about all you need to know, to ensure an enjoyable, efficient and memorable business travel stay in one of Africa’s most understated business travel destinations.

Fact File
Population:
2.1 million
Time zone: GMT +2
Plugs: Three-prong round
Dialling code: +264
Currency:  Namibian dollar and SA rand; $1=9.9NAD
Language: Predominantly English and German

History

Originally inhabited by Bushmen, Damara and Namaqua people, Namibia has seen many invaders claiming the land for themselves. During the 17th century the Herero, a pastoral, nomadic people from the east African lakes settled in Kaokoland in the north of the country. In the middle of the 19th century some tribes moved south into Damaraland and are said to have enslaved certain groups and displaced others. Indigenous Khoisan were forced north across the Orange River in the 19th century by white farmers in South Africa. These Khoisan adopted Boer customs and became known as the Oorlams. As they migrated, they clashed with the Nama and the Herero, taking the best grazing by force. Although Europeans had been stopping along the Skeleton Coast on their sea voyages around the tip of Africa, it wasn’t until European powers began to carve up the continent between them that a real interest in Namibia was sparked. Beating Britain to the punch, German chancellor Otto von Bismarck claimed the country in 1844, and established German South-West Africa as a colony. Under the leadership of the tribal chief Hendrik Witbooi, the Namaqua put up fierce resistance to the German occupation. The Herero, too, put up a fight, but neither group was able to overcome the superior weapons and numbers of the German troops. On 17 December 1920, South Africa undertook the administration of South-West Africa, a position it was loathe to relinquish. It took much input from international fronts, but Namibia finally gained its independence on 21 March 1990.

German Influence

Being a German colony between 1884 and 1915 has left a strong German influence on the country, even today. Much of the architecture in Swakopmund and Luderitz is reminiscent of 19th century Germany – inner town buildings sport domes, towers, turrets, embellished gables and bay windows. There are a number of German restaurants in Windhoek, and Windhoek beer is brewed in compliance with the Reinheitsegebot, the German Purity Law of 1516.

Kate Kennedy

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